HAF and Faith Groups Request Zazzle to Remove Offensive Products

Minneapolis, MN (July 7, 2010) - Various faith groups signed on to HAF's letter to Mr. Robert Beaver, CEO of Zazzle, an internet company allowing customers to purchase customized products.  The letter, below, requests Zazzle to remove offensive options which allow customers to place sacred images on products such as shoes and skateboards.
Dear Mr. Beaver,
On behalf of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the undersigned concerned faith-based organizations, we write to you to request the removal of options on zazzle.com to design, create, have made and/or order shoes and skateboards displaying sacred symbols and/or images.  The placement of sacred symbols and images on shoes and skateboards is highly disrespectful and offensive to a number of religious communities worldwide.
Indeed sacred symbols and images are found on a variety of products, including greeting cards, posters, calendars, clocks, advertising and packaging and clothing, but in the Hindu, Jain and Muslim communities, there are definite uses which are not entertained due to religious and culture beliefs and practices -- the use of sacred symbols on shoes or skateboards, where they are stepped on, being amongst them.
In the Hindu context, the feet, and especially shoes, are considered unclean.  Shoes (and feet) carry the dirt, dust and impurities of one's daily travels.  As such, Hindus not only remove their shoes before entering a temple, sacred space or place of worship, they also remove their shoes prior to entering any home.  Hindus also avoid touching others with their feet.  In fact, if one has unintentionally touched someone or something considered sacred with their feet, many Hindus will go to the extent of touching the person or thing with their right hand and then to their forehead, eyes or heart as an act of regret and forgiveness. 
The touching of certain items considered sacred, such as books as representations of the Goddess of Knowledge, is also believed to be disrespectful and offensive.  Accordingly actually stepping atop sacred images, as would be the case of a skateboard, is equally disrespectful and offensive. While perhaps for different reasons, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist and Muslim practices also require the removal of shoes prior to entering places of worship.  Thus, the use of sacred images on shoes may be deeply offensive and culturally insensitive to an overwhelming number of people around the world.
There is no question that participating artists have created some beautiful artwork using Hindu and other faith symbols and imagery, and by no means is it our intention to request that their artistry be limited.  However, we ask that Zazzle, as a corporation, be mindful of what products it allows the art to be displayed upon and modify the option so that religious images, at least Hindu, Jain and Muslim, not be customizable on shoes and skateboards.
As you have stated on zazzle.com, "We embrace diversity of background and thought, treat each other with respect, and demonstrate integrity in everything we do."  It is our sincere hope that your response to HAF and other cosignatories stays true to this stated policy of multicultural respect.  As an international company conducting business primarily from the U.S., one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse nations, we look forward to the corporate leadership of Zazzle addressing our concerns promptly and proactively.
HAF is an advocacy group providing a progressive voice for over two million Hindu Americans. The Foundation interacts with and educates leaders in public policy, academia, media and the public at large about Hinduism and global issues concerning Hindus, such as the portrayal of Hinduism, interfaith relations, tolerance and pluralism.
We await your direct and formal response and the removal of options on zazzle.com to design, create, have made and/or order shoes with sacred symbols and/or images.  I can be directly reached at suhag@hafsite.org.
Suhag A. Shukla, Esq. - Legal Counsel and Managing Director
Hindu American Foundation
American Jewish Committee 
Federation of Jain Associations in North America
Hindu Forum Britain 
Islamic Public Affairs Council 
United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance